The Obama administration is fighting on
multiple fronts - in courts in San Francisco, Washington and London -
to keep an official veil of secrecy over the treatment of a former
prisoner who says he was tortured at Guantanamo Bay.
The administration has asked a federal appeals court in San
Francisco to reconsider its ruling allowing Binyam Mohamed and four
other former or current prisoners to sue a Bay Area company for
allegedly flying them to overseas torture chambers for the CIA.
Obama administration lawyers also argued that Mohamed's attorneys
had violated secrecy procedures by writing a letter to President Obama,
accompanied by a blacked-out document, asking him to disclose their
client's treatment. A federal judge ordered Mohamed's lawyers to answer
contempt-of-court charges in May that were punishable by up to six
months in jail, but has since dropped those charges.
Most recently, a British government lawyer told her nation's High
Court last month that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had
threatened to limit U.S. intelligence-sharing with Great Britain if the
court disclosed details of Mohamed's treatment in Guantanamo.
The British court declared in August 2008 that there was evidence
Mohamed had been tortured, but deleted the details from its public
version of the ruling at the Bush administration's insistence.
The court is now considering requests from lawyers for Mohamed and
the news media to make the details public in a case over alleged
British participation in his mistreatment.
According to a transcript of the court's July 29 hearing, Lord
Justice John Thomas said there was "nothing in the paragraphs (about
the U.S. government's treatment of Mohamed) that could conceivably
identify anything that is of a national security interest."
Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian refugee and British resident, was arrested
in Pakistan in 2002 and turned over to U.S. authorities as a suspected
terrorist and Taliban fighter. He said he was tortured in Morocco,
where guards slashed his genitals with a razor blade, and in a CIA
prison in Afghanistan, where he was beaten, hung from a pole and held
in darkness and isolation. He was sent to Guantanamo in September 2004.
He and four other men have sued Jeppesen Dataplan, a San Jose
subsidiary of the Boeing Co., for its alleged role in arranging their
flights for the CIA. A Council of Europe report in 2007 described
Jeppesen as the CIA's aviation services provider.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated
the suit in April, rejecting arguments originally made by the Bush
administration that the case posed grave risks to national security.
Obama administration lawyers endorsed those arguments at a hearing in
February and have asked the court for a rehearing.
Mohamed's lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Ahmad Ghappour of the
British human-rights group Reprieve, were threatened with jail after
drafting a letter to Obama in February urging him to release the
evidence of their client's treatment in U.S. custody or to authorize
Britain to do so.
The lawyers said a Defense Department review team refused to let
them provide a summary of the classified evidence to Obama, so they
sent him a blacked-out sheet instead and released both documents to the
press. But government lawyers said Mohamed's attorneys misled the
review team about their plans and misled the public by accusing the
team of concealing information from the president.
Citing the government's accusations, U.S. District Judge Thomas
Hogan of Washington ordered Mohamed's attorneys to appear before him in
May and face contempt charges, punishable by up to six months in jail,
for allegedly violating terms of the agreement that allowed them to
gain access to Guantanamo prisoners.
But after further arguments, Hogan said there had been
misunderstandings by both sides and no violation. The Justice
Department declined comment on the case last week.